People buy a bottle of “Napa Valley” wine with certain expectations — the biggest being that the wine is actually made from Napa Valley grapes.
However, in an attempt to cash in on the cachet of the Napa Valley name, some unscrupulous producers try to sell “Napa Valley” wine using grapes from other areas or even countries.
“Napa Valley has had its name ripped off around the world on bottles of wine that don’t really come from here,” said Rex Stults, government relations director of the Napa Valley Vintners nonprofit trade association.
To do protect the integrity of the Napa Valley name and prevent consumer deception, Napa Valley Vintners recently obtained a certification mark for the name “Napa Valley” from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The mark applies only to products that are alcohol or beverage related.
It is the first time an American Viticultural Area has been registered as a certification mark in the U.S., said the group.
A certification mark certifies the origin, production, quality and integrity of consumer goods. The marks are seen on many products. Common examples include the Underwriters Laboratories “UL” label, the Good Housekeeping “seal” and the Energy Star appliance mark.
Receiving the certification mark “upholds the integrity of the Napa name for the legitimate producers of Napa Valley wine and for consumers of wine who pick up a bottle and see Napa Valley on it and trust that it really comes from here,” said Stults.
There is already a federal regulation that wines labeled as from “Napa Valley” must contain at least 85 percent of grapes from Napa Valley. But that federal regulation isn’t always easy for foreign governments to comprehend, said Stults.
“Working with other countries, it became clear we needed (the mark) to be taken seriously” outside the U.S., said J. Scott Gerien, trademark attorney for Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty in Napa.
The new U.S. designation will allow the NVV to negotiate with additional countries and further its goal of protecting consumers worldwide.
Unlike the “UL” label, the Good Housekeeping “seal” and the Energy Star logo, the NVV did not create an actual logo to be printed on bottles.
“It’s not critical at this juncture,” said Stults, of a logo. Space on wine labels is already at a premium, he noted. Receiving official certification for the words ‘Napa Valley’ is more meaningful and the coverage is broader than just a logo, he said.
It took the NVV five years of work in Washington, D.C. and agreements with more than 100 brand owners to register the mark, said a news release.
To register the certification mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the NVV needed to obtain more than 50 written agreements from wineries and wine-related businesses that use the word “Napa” in their own trademarks, proving that those trademarks were compliant with the standards for the Napa Valley AVA.
After applying for the mark, an additional 50 individual agreements were negotiated with owners of new “Napa” trademarks to demonstrate enforcement of the certification mark.
“It was an arduous process that took many years to complete,” said Stults. “Needless to say, we’ve popped open a couple of bottles of Napa Valley sparkling wine to celebrate.”
In addition to obtaining this certification mark, the NVV has gained name protection status for the Napa Valley in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Taiwan, Thailand and Turkey.